Do Games Promote Content Area Literacy?

September 30, 2011 at 12:30 pm | Posted in Content Area Literacy | 2 Comments

(authored by Michelle Ginett)

When I took my first chemistry class, I remember hearing and reading a wide variety of words that I had never seen or heard before. Some of these words were actions performed, adjectives for observations or directions telling me what to complete. This was initially when I thought, “it would be really beneficial to teach literacy skills in a content area class.” From working in groups, I quickly realized that I was not the only one struggling to gain scientific literacy skills. The textbook was frustrating to comprehend and often the teacher was struggling to get through all the necessary material in time. By the time I reached college level chemistry, we were expected to know words such as titration, stoichiometry, fractional distillation, polymers, redox reactions and many more. In fact, there are so many of these terms for chemistry, there is an online Chemistry Glossary for all these terms. Not only did we have to know these words, but also we had to know where to apply them and even how to perform them. All this material made chemistry, not just a bunch of new vocabulary words, but also an entirely new language. Jerry Wellington and Jonathan Osborne, who wrote “Language and Literacy in Science Education,” agree, “Every science lesson is a language lesson.”

According to the Alliance for Excellent Education, “High school students’ ability to read complex texts is strongly predictive of their performance in college math and science courses.” This suggests that creating good literacy skills in the content area courses would increase the success rate of high school students in college. So, now that we understand why it is important to have scientific literacy, how do we achieve it or even teach it? Let us start with the definition of scientific literacy from the National Science Education Standards, which states

Scientific literacy means that a person can ask, find, or determine answers to questions derived from curiosity about everyday experiences. It means that a person has the ability to describe, explain, and predict natural phenomena. Scientific literacy entails being able to read with understanding articles about science in the popular press and to engage in social conversation about the validity of the conclusions. Scientific literacy implies that a person can identify scientific issues underlying national and local decisions and express positions that are scientifically and technologically informed. A literate citizen should be able to evaluate the quality of scientific information on the basis of its source and the methods used to generate it. Scientific literacy also implies the capacity to pose and evaluate arguments based on evidence and to apply conclusions from such arguments appropriately.

As you can see, a lot goes into scientific literacy, which means there may be a lot to go into teaching and attaining scientific literacy skills. One article, Games for Teaching Information Literacy Skills by Felicia Smith, suggests applying games to classroom discussion increases content literacy and decreases boredom in the classroom. The author’s reasoning is that today’s students are accustomed to continuous entertainment, which has shaped their expectation for a more amusing instruction. Therefore, Smith incorporated crossword puzzles, riddle mirrors and various types of humor. Smith claimed that students were more entertained, therefore paid closer attention and were able to retain the literary content required for the course. In conclusion, Smith states that “No matter what we try to convey, if students aren’t listening, instructors are not being effective.”

In my opinion, games in the classroom could be productive in promoting content area literacy. When a student does not know the meaning of a word, instead of just reading about the word and not understanding, an engaging activity may be appropriate. For instance, if a teacher was to create a humorous skit or game from the literary term, it would give the students a connection to that word that was more meaningful that just reading about the term. Therefore, the teacher would be offering a reading definition that could be enhanced through a game or humorous demonstration. By using different resources, it may help different learner’s gain better understanding of the literary content. As teachers, we are responsible for promoting learning and we should use the tools available to us, even if it means incorporating literary games such as cross word puzzles into the curriculum.

Do you think that it is appropriate to use games to promote content area literacy? Do you think adding games to the classroom is beneficial or just distracting? By making the classroom constantly entertaining, is that just encouraging more entertainment or is it really helping students develop content knowledge?



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  1. I think it is appropriate to use games to promote content area literacy sometimes. I don’t think that games should be used constantly, or even everyday, but I do think a game every once in a while can help students learn. In my differentiation class we talked about competition in the classroom and if it actually helps students; to some extent, I think it does. Students will become involved in the game and want to win, which will help them focus on the information and content being presented in the game. On the flip side, there are kids who really do not like competition or the students who are introverted and are not into playing games and competing with other students. If a game is used in the classroom I think that it should be something that would not create too much competition, and should be something that has teams of 2 or 3 students. However, a little competition never hurt anyone! If a game is used correctly, and if there really is a goal to the game then I think that students can learn from it. The teacher needs to make sure the game aligns with what the class will be doing/has already done in order to ensure that the students will get something out of playing it.
    In order to promote literacy during the game, I think it must have something to do with vocabulary words, or reading strategies. I found a website ( that has activities for kids that promote literacy in the classroom. The website gives games and activities for teachers to use in the classroom. Overall, I think a healthy dose of competition and games can really get students involved in learning and understanding important content!

  2. Hi there! This post couldn’t be written much better!
    Going through this article reminds me of my previous roommate!
    He always kept talking about this. I most certainly will forward this article
    to him. Pretty sure he’ll have a great read. Thanks for sharing!

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